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Carnahan Outlines Spending Agenda

January 20, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - While Gov. Mel Carnahan's speech was followed by sparring over the size of tax cuts, other proposals Carnahan put forward Wednesday could spark lively debate in the statehouse.

Both Carnahan and Senate Republican leader Steve Ehlmann, St. Charles, agreed that Missouri's 15-year transportation plan has too little funding to be completed. Yet, neither Carnahan nor Republican leaders offered specific proposals on how to deal with the shortfall.

"Sensible people ought to be able to have a discussion on this issue," Carnahan said after proposing a commission to study the problem.

Several leaders in both parties suggested that geographic divisions made the shortfall more complex.

"We have to find a way to get over this urban-rural split," Carnahan said.

Ehlmann refused to rule out tax increases in order to pay for the completion of the highway program, but said general revenue should first be used to subsidize the state's lagging gas-tax revenues.

"First the state should find a way to equalize revenue...Gas tax revenue hasn't been growing at the rate of general revenue," Ehlmann said.

Sharper divisions emerged over Carnahan's proposal to allow collective bargaining for state workers. Although Carnahan asked for a bipartisan bill on collective bargaining, the chamber's response made it clear the Democratic side of the aisle was far more enthusiastic.

"We don't want to unionize state government," said state Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. Some Republican leaders said Carnahan may be playing politics with the proposal.

Carnahan said his decision to challenge incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft in 2000 doesn't affect how he governs the state. "This is a time to do the people's business," he said.

As an example of his success, Carnahan cited his earlier education initiatives--such as early childhood education. He outlined several new proposals he said would improve the skills of low-performing Missouri schoolchildren.

Social promotion--letting underqualified schoolchildren advance despite their lack of basic skills--should be stopped, Carnahan said. He proposed the state fund remedial programs for students who needed more attention.

Another way to improve performance, Carnahan said, was to allow school districts to require parents to sign a contract promising to perform "home-based support activities" for their children.

Republican leaders urged more focus on traditional educational priorities. "We need to get away from liberal experimentation in our schools," Ehlmann said.

Republican leaders said more money should be sent to the classroom and less to the administration. "I'm hearing from even teachers in my district that too much money is being spent on administration," Kinder sad.

Carnahan also proposed setting aside tobacco settlement revenues until the state knew how much it could keep. It's unclear what portion, if any, of the state's tobacco settlement will be taken by the Federal government.

House Republican leader Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City) siad the GOP believed any money fell under the state's "Hancock lid" limiting revenue and should be sent back to taxpayers. But Carnahan said the funds should be preserved for future investments in health and education.

Carnahan also said a tax rebate was premature. "We can't refund money we don't know we have," he said.

While some Republicans leaders said Carnahan's speech lacked specifics, Scott wasn't without praise. "It was a good speech for a state of the state. At least it was shorter than Bill Clinton's," he said.